Post-bureaucracy vs. bureaucracy in late modernity. A quest for “new rules” of organizational analysis


Études théoriques et méthodologiques





Sous la direction de

Louise Briand


Centre de recherche sur les innovations sociales


This article discusses the ongoing debate about organizational transformations, which is centered on the following questions: are the organizational transformations of the last few decades a sign that bureaucracy is declining or gaining momentum? Can we conclude that a post-bureaucratic model is emerging, and if so, is post-bureaucracy spawning an emancipatory management style or a totalitarian regime for workers? Consistent with Alvesson and Thompson (2005), we posit that bureaucracy is alive and well in late modernity, and, like taylorism (Duval, 1996), is increasingly presenting itself under new guises. While recognizing the contradictions raised by organizational transformations (Alvesson and Thompson, 2005; Casey, 2004; Courpasson and Reed, 2004; Kärreman and Alvesson, 2004; Hodgson, 2004; Clegg and Courpasson, 2004; Maravelias, 2003; Farrell and Morris, 2003; Child and McGrath, 2001), we nevertheless assert that the protraction of the debate is due to a faulty conceptualization of bureaucracy and theoretical and analytical gaps rather than genuine paradoxes. We therefore propose that bureaucracy be viewed as a form of administrative power—an institutional dimension of modernity (Giddens, 1984)—and that its production and reproduction be understood through a study of its structuration. Thus, we argue that the organization is first and foremost a social system in which reflexivity is guided and that its structure and agency be viewed as a duality. We moreover suggest that organizational analysis should acknowledge and accept ambiguity (Alvesson, 1993b; 2004) and be guided by concepts that transcend the disciplines of management sciences and take into account the core nature of the organization, which is to be “a meaningful social world as constituted by lay actors” (Giddens, 1993a). Accordingly, we develop a definition and an analytical framework for the purpose of understanding the organization and its transformation.

mots clés

Bureaucracy, Post-bureaucracy, Administrative power, Late modernity, Structuration theory, Organizational analysis, Surveillance, Anthony Giddens